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maryann johanson | #BlackLivesMatter

is there any downside to rating films as to whether they pass the Bechdel Test?


You may have heard that some Swedish cinemas and TV networks are beginning to grade films based on whether they pass the Bechdel Test, the simple and semisatirical measure of how well the female half of the human race is represented on film. The simple is this: To pass, a film must

1. Have at least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

The semisatirical is this: The test is absurdly easy for a film to pass — Thor: The Dark World does so, for instance, by the obvious expedient of casting more than one female actor in supporting roles as characters who can info-dump sci-fi jargon at us — and yet a ridiculous number of films fail… which demonstrates how poorly women are represented in movies.

Anyway… from The Guardian:

You expect movie ratings to tell you whether a film contains nudity, sex, profanity or violence. Now cinemas in Sweden are introducing a new rating to highlight gender bias, or rather the absence of it.

To get an A rating, a movie must pass the so-called Bechdel test…

Bio Rio is one of four Swedish cinemas that launched the new rating last month to draw attention to how few movies pass the Bechdel test. Most filmgoers have reacted positively to the initiative. “For some people it has been an eye-opener,” said [Ellen] Tejle [director of the Stockholm arthouse cinema].

Beliefs about women’s roles in society are influenced by the fact that movie watchers rarely see “a female superhero or a female professor or person who makes it through exciting challenges and masters them”, Tejle said, noting that the rating doesn’t say anything about the quality of the film. “The goal is to see more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens,” he added.

The state-funded Swedish Film Institute supports the initiative, which is starting to catch on. Scandinavian cable TV channel Viasat Film says it will start using the ratings in its film reviews and has scheduled an A-rated “Super Sunday” on 17 November, when it will show only films that pass the test, such as The Hunger Games, The Iron Lady and Savages.

The A rating is the latest Swedish move to promote gender equality by addressing how women are portrayed in the public sphere.

As noted here, the Bechdel Test says nothing about whether the representation of women in a film is positive or negative, feminist or misogynist, merely about the level of participation women have in the story being told. (Existing ratings for sex and violence make no distinction between quality storytelling and exploitive crap, either.) And no one is being forbidden from seeing any film that fails to achieve this A rating. It’s merely offered for information.

Is there any downside to rating films as to whether they pass the Bechdel Test?

The comments section at that Guardian article is a depressing collection of failing-to-miss-the-point and fearmonging over the Imminent Death of Men. Which highlights, for me, how the only possible “downside” to such a rating would be the discomfort some people may experience when they are suddenly forced to recognize how poorly women are represented on the big screen.

What do you think?

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)

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